FALLING (“Strimholov,” Marina Stepanska, 2017, Ukraine)

Falling posterDirector Marina Stepanska’s film Falling had its world premiere in the East of the West competition of the 52nd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. The film examines the after-effects of the Ukrainian revolution of 2014 through the fragile love story between Anton (Andriy Seletskiy) and Katia (Dasha Plahtiy).

The two young adults lead parallel lives; their meeting feels fateful. Their respective futures are uncertain, their present temporary. Anton, a former drug addict, has just left a mental institution and leads a sheltered life under the watchful eye of his overprotective grandfather (Oleg Mosijchuk) – who used to hold a position of power under the previous political system and has now retreated to the woods with a rifle in hand to protect what he believes to be rightfully his. Anton meets Katia outside a nightclub; she asks him to light up her cigarette and tells him a story. Unlike Johann (Christian Boris), her boyfriend, with whom she will soon leave her homeland for Berlin, Anton listens to her. In fact, the next morning, Katia explains to Johann why she likes a particularl sad Ukrainian song; he waves her off, hungover, and looking for coffee (in a scene perhaps representing Western smugness towards Eastern Europe and its culture? Or, more simply, that falling out of love with someone may be just as fortuitous and sudden as falling in love? In any case, these parallel interpretations and ambiguities can be noticed throughout Falling‘s entire duration).

Disenchanted, Katia impulsively decides to hop on a bus and visit the charming stranger in the woods, despite not knowing his name yet. Lost in the woods, the two bond; out of space and out of time; temporarily unconcerned about their future, their place in history, the burden and repercussions of the actions of the previous Ukrainian generations. Their conversations are very normal, intimate, whispered, and fragile. The silences are impregnated with meaning; the blooming emotions of love and affection growing between them can surely be felt: may be cut through with the small beak of the owls coo-cooing in the night. Such moments are extremely rare in contemporary cinema.

As Stepanska told me when I interviewed her in Karlovy Vary, it was her intention to make a film that would represent normal, everyday people. In order to do so, she also decided to cast Seletskiy and Plahtiy, non-professional actors making their feature debuts in Falling. There is something innocent in their faces, something that should be preserved, and will indeed be preserved forever in the frames of Falling, but will probably not last should they pursue further roles in cinema, and become integrated in the merciless middle-class industry machine of cinema and that outdated trap of traditional acting methods (for which the vast majority of theatre is implausibly celebrated!).

Anton and Katia live in the moment – a pure, virginal moment – because Seletskiy and Plahtiy do so as well.

Later in the movie, they must face merciless time, take on responsibilities and decide whether to face future challenges together. But a prevailing theme of Falling is that some things may be beyond their control (like Emile Zola’s preordained order of things – genetic, political, etc.). Perhaps there are more implications and aspects more closely connected to a Ukrainian context. But it seems to me that in a world where young people must work three jobs to make ends meet, while previous whining generations talk about how bad they had it, the universal aspect of Stepanska’s Falling is sufficiently relevant for just about anybody to connect with it. The future is uncertain for everyone, and life may, after all, only be a succession of different types of “falls” (falling from a bicycle, falling from the sky, falling in love, etc.). – ★★★★★

STRIMHOLOV || 2017, Ukraine || Drama || Directed by – Marina Stepanska / Produced by – Olena Yershova, Volodymyr Filippov, Alla Ovsyannikova / Written by – Marina Stepanska / Cinematographer – Sebastian Thaler / Music by – Mykyta Moiseiev / Edited by – Borys Peter / Art director – Julia Balan / Starring – Andriy Seletskiy, Dasha Plahtiy, Oleg Mosiychuk, Larysa Rusnak, Christian Boris / Running time: 105 mins.

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